On the Church Year

1 Comment » Written on April 23rd, 2009     
Filed under: Church Year, Culture
Jay Phelan, president of North Park Theological Seminary, sends out an electronic newsletter. In his last letter, he reflected on the Church Year, secular holidays and how these days drive our decisions in worship. You might enjoy his reflection, and if you care to comment, please do:

April 8, 2009

Dear Colleagues,

I grew up in congregation that was, shall we say, low church.  Our big holidays were Easter, Mother’s Day and the Fourth of July.  Perhaps Mother’s Day was the biggest of all.  On Mother’s Day if your mother was still alive you would wear a red carnation.  If she had died you would wear a white carnation.  As a child that was a source of endless morbid curiosity.  Whose mother was dead?  How had they died?  And what if someone was wearing a pink carnation?  Was their mother half dead?  But even more important in my congregation was the contest on Mother’s Day: there was an award for the oldest mother present, the youngest mother present (doesn’t sound like such a good idea today!), the mother with the most children present at worship that morning, and some other categories I have forgotten.  This meant that Mother’s Day was easily the biggest attendance day of the year for us.  Every mother wanted to win the “most children present” award.

We didn’t follow the church year because it was to “churchy”.  The mainline churches did that.   We were different.  We went strictly from the Bible and not from “tradition.”  Even as a child this raised some questions for me.  Wasn’t the contest on Mothers’ Day a “tradition”?  Was the July 4th celebration really as important as Pentecost?  As I got older it troubled me that people were more willing to permit their year to be shaped by months honoring Greek gods and Roman emperors and to permit their week to be shaped by days honoring Norse gods, than they were to let their years and lives be shaped by the story of Jesus Christ.  I think of this every year during Holy Week.  After a joyful Christmas, after a somber Lent, time slows down.  We go through the week with Jesus.  We anticipate his suffering.  We go into the darkness with him.  On Holy Saturday we even enter the quiet of the tomb with him.  On Sunday the light of resurrection bursts into his, and our, darkness.

This is our story.  This is our narrative.  Living by the narrative of the gospel is more important than living the narrative of national holidays or pagan memories.  We are a story formed people.  We must keep hearing and living from that story until it becomes second nature to us-until it becomes us. After all, Paul insisted that we are in Christ; that we died and rose with Christ (Romans 6:3-11).  This story of Jesus intersects with each of our stories in powerful ways-ways that are universal and ways that are profoundly personal and individual.  I trust your Easter celebration will be a glorious celebration of your place in the grand story God is telling in Jesus.  I also pray that the whole story of your life will follow the storyline of the Gospel.


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One Response to “On the Church Year”

On Mother’s Day: One year Teresa one the contest for youngest mom, mom with most kids and one other that I forget now… she was so embarrassed that she determined not to go to church on the next years mother’s day!

On red and white carnations- but what would it have been like for us 4 kids 6,7,9,11 to show up the mother’s day following our mothers death with white carnations while all the other kids were wearing red! Glad our church didn’t practice that tradition!

I, too, have come to appreciate the power of the Church year.

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